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WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

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African Women Scientists Take the Lead in Food Security

Posted August 12, 2009 12:00 AM by Sharkles

Last Wednesday, leading African women scientists spoke with African leaders and United States policy makers regarding the chronic hunger and poverty conditions in sub-Saharan Africa.

In their discussion, the scientists expressed their concern regarding the lack of women in decision-making positions in the agricultural development in the country. They claim that this problem needs to be addressed because increasing women's research roles is crucial for achieving success in food security and development. By gaining influence over priorities, policies, and programs, the women scientists believe they'll be able to avoid future food crises, better deal with drought, and manage other environmental problems that could disrupt food production.

So why should women play a larger role? Currently, about 80% of African farmers are women. They produce between 60-80% of the continent's food, but only receive 5% of agricultural extensions and less than 10 % of rural credits. In Africa, women farmers also have less access to land, technologies, and finances.

Why does this disparity exist? In part, it's attributed partially to the small number of women (14%) in management positions for agricultural research and development programs. But this is the very issue that many are trying to overcome.

African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD)

The scientists noted the success of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) program, which has served as a model and inspiration to women farmers in Africa.AWARD is a fellowship that was created to increase the talent pool of women in agriculture. The program identifies outstanding African women scientists to receive opportunities to strengthen their leadership and scientific capabilities.

With AWARD, women are chosen from all over Africa. Countries include Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Each woman in the program is paired with a senior scientist /AWARD fellow as a mentor. Mentors are selected to match the participant's field of expertise and personal goals.

The fellowship emerged from a pilot program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Gender & Diversity initiative. Now in its second year, AWARD has helped to empower African women in the agricultural field.

According to Vicki Wilde, director of CGIAR's Gender & Diversity program, "Agriculture is recognized as an engine for economic growth in Africa. What is less well recognized is that women run this engine. From before dawn to after dusk, they keep all its parts moving…We cannot defeat hunger and poverty in Africa unless women have a strong voice."

Women Farmers are Already Successful

Despite the limitations experienced by Africa's women farmers, there are policies and programs targeting these women that have already proven successful.

For example, the 2008 World Development Report describes a CGIAR program that was designed to improve the bean varieties grown by women farmers, the group that primarily grows this crop, in more than seven countries in eastern and southern Africa. The "bean experts" used local channels that were readily-accessible to the women (places like community centers and churches) to distribute small, affordable packets of bean seeds.

In addition to being more nutritious and marketable, the new beans offered up to 30-50% more yield and have helped women cushion their food supply, while raising their incomes.

According to the women scientists, this program shows that African women need more influence over agricultural policies, priorities, and programs – in addition to finance, land, and technology - to make initiatives, like with the beans, successful in aiding hunger and poverty in Africa.

Author's Note: I will continue to follow this story, as U.S. policy makers are still on tour in Africa.



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United States - Member - New Member Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - New Member

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Re: African Women Scientists Take the Lead in Food Security

08/12/2009 11:36 AM

It's good to see women taking charge and I like it that you are going to follow the story. I like how a simple thing like distributing healthy bean seeds makes a very big difference. Women making a huge impact by using small gestures.


Join Date: May 2005
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Re: African Women Scientists Take the Lead in Food Security

08/13/2009 10:31 AM

The disparity of investment, resources, and distribution of food is not because they are women, even though in those areas that are still tribal or those that have been transformed into islamic regions, women have no 'say' and little respect, let alone access to resources of independent land ownership. Most of the instability and injustice is due to the totalitarian nature of the regimes throughout Africa, as well as the Islamic influence on culture of much of the continent. They are corrupt, power-hungry autocracies that suck the finances and freedom out of their respective peoples.

The bulk of the populace is poor and hungry directly due to their collectivist political ruling classes. Whether dictatorships, socialist parliamentarian, or even sharia pseudo-theocracies, no large scale shift in control of production and resources - even as essential as food (both production and distribution) will be possible within a framework of a leftist ideological worldview. You cannot extort personal profits or corporate assets and lift the people out of poverty, let alone feed them, even with "good intentions" behind the taxation and related theft of the products of labor and investment. Neither real (land) nor personal property rights are respected in the worst areas, their 'justice' systems are a joke, and don't even think about exercising such rights as religious freedom, speech, personal protection, and a host of others.

What little earned profits are available after meeting basic needs, have little chance of staying in the hands of those who earned them so that they can pass the benefits of their labor on to their families. In completely corrupted systems like Mugabe's Zimbabwe - just as one extreme example of evil - generations of wealth that had served to turn (Rhodesia) into the breadbasket of the region were shot to hell in a few years, declining ever since the land theft of 2000, and with it went the food that fed now-starving millions. Now in the hands of political and military connected buddies, the farms that were once run efficiently by 4th and 5th generation settlers to the benefit of their employees and the entire region are now little more than ranch retreats barely feeding the peasants that now slave over them. The massive 'bailout/recovery' currency inflation that followed, destroyed over a short period whatever savings had been stored away in the banks, so that only those with gold or silver to escape the country with had a chance to reinvest later...which they will not do so long as the looting thugs are in charge. Ever seen a Z$100 Trillion dollar bill? It will barely buy a pair of tennis shoes.
Now try buying a farm tractor. Exchange-rate n/a, as it is difficult enough doing the math; 10^30 to one USD? Now go mail-order some healthy bean-seeds from Nebraska?

That being said, throughout the world, Africa included, the basic family unit of married and monogamous husband and wife supporting their children continues to be under attack from many varied directions both cultural and political, even though it is the bedrock basis of any stable society.

Until these cultural issues and statist regimes are overthrown, do not expect aid, women farmers, or even attempts to feed the hungry directly, to succeed - though we can try to make a difference where possible. I think any program helping small-scale farming will be helpful, but look forward to any successful farmer having their grain taxed or confiscated once they produce enough to feed others.

Call it 'half empty' or 'half full' if you must, I've got the other half in a redundant glass...
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